All good things must come to an end, and that’s the case with SkarWorX’s trilogy, which concludes with ‘Seed-X Vol.3’, a six-track EP and one that Øystein Skar hinted a while ago would be more ‘acoustic’ than its two predecessors.
One of the many interesting things about SkarWorX is that (on his own admission) he’s not always been quite sure where he was going with this project.
The first volume was an intriguing one with much piano (his favourite instrument), quite a lot of hissy, crackling, electronic sounds, a dance track, some contemplative track titles, such as ‘Mutual Madness’ which couldn’t be explained because there were no lyrics and then, in the only song which did have lyrics, it manifested itself as something that sat between Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ and the soundtrack to Blade Runner in those creepy fog filled street scenes in which the girls on the huge advertising screens seem to be talking directly to you.
It didn’t lack in entertainment for sure.
Prior to the second volume he said there would be more electronics and less piano and that he personally found the album “to be better” than the first one, “since my vision in the process of making it, was a little bit clearer”, then adding, “But I guess you’re always thinking that the latest work is your best…”
What that one confirmed was that no two songs of his are the same with those that successively feature a sudden explosion of sound; that drown in their own ambience; and which might accompany a Foxtrot dancing class at first before acquiring a Latin American rhythm counted in the eclectic mix.
I concluded by saying that he has released, and continues to do so, a form of music which is very hard to identify. It’s a sort of experimental instrumental pop, lacking the formal gravitas, if that’s the right word, of some of his contemporaries in electronic composition in Norway, pushing collective, intricate sets of melodies to the edge of the known universe while at the same time ensuring that they remain attractive to the casual listener.
And so to this final part of the trilogy and SkarWorX’s admission, “I’m still working on the direction of this project but at least it feels like it’s moving in the right direction. The release also marks the ending of the Seed – X trilogy, which is both a relief and a little sad at the same time.”
The album opens with ‘The Hardest Thing’, a track which showcases his mastery of electronic composition immediately. It sounds like he’s sweeping the keys with a broom in advance of discovering a mandolin-like sound. When the main melody strikes up it is, as usually the case with SkarWorX, a simple one, just five notes in this case, and often as here played on piano, but immersed in ambience. And I glean a hint of Mike Oldfield in the melody.
In previous reviews I’ve opined that one day SkarWorX would come up with an absolute banger of a track, his own personal ‘Faded’ or ‘Take on Me’.
‘So why are we here?’ is possibly the closest he has come to it, to date. Again based around a minimal piano melody to start, it builds consistently like an expanding universe, once more a la Oldfield, with multi-tracking of numerous instruments but all of them again offering only the simplest of melodies so that none dominates.
If the title is an existential question then the music fits it perfectly and even offers a solution. It could stand as the melodic representation of the ultimate philosophical debate; the reason for our existence. That statement probably sounds more than a little pretentious but listen to the song a couple of times and you’ll at least get a flavour of what I’m getting at.
The answer to the question ultimately is to listen to this hypnotic piece on repeat and imagining you’re floating in the void, past Mars. More ‘Music for spaceports’, perhaps, than for airports.
Staying on the space theme, the early part of ‘Ambience’ reminds me of M83. No insistent piano melody here, rather a concoction of synthesised sounds, with a little cello thrown in for good message, that are suggestive of something like a docking manoeuvre between spacecraft on the dark side of the Moon.
‘Slowrush’ is a complete change of direction and (re-)introduces the promised acoustic instrumentation. The piano is as simple as you can get, amounting to three notes in the main theme but the principal instrument here is a sonorous but melodious cello, courtesy of Javed Kurd.
I don’t know what a slowrush is. In Tame Impala’s album of that title it represented the power of time as an inescapable phenomenon that happens to us as human beings.
That would fit these circumstances quite well but I’m more inclined to interpret it as a scaled-down, gentler sugar rush, like you only ate half your Jaffa cake.
‘Yearn exhale’ was a track on the second volume and the one I likened to a Foxtrot in its opening bars. The shorter ‘Yearn/Exhale 2’is similar melodically, but more industrial as if the exhaling is being done in a gym and your personal trainer is on a mission.
SkarWorX’s many programming skills are on show here as it sounds as if you’re in a corridor with multiple doors being slammed as you walk along it. It ends with a lovely little run along the keyboard and a sense of relief as if you’ve found the emergency exit.
The final track, ‘Lille’, was reviewed as a single, a while ago, and SkarWorX had previewed it himself with the comment, “the song is short and sweet, and kind of naive – but the two previous albums were pretty complex, so it was necessary to put some minimalism in the mix.”
Well it is that, and there’s a fair share of melancholic cello (Dorran Alibaud this time, I believe) in it but thrown into the mix is a tune that is dancy but in a way that would have appealed to a high society soirée in Hapsburg Empire Vienna.
It does get you wondering what it has to do with an industrial city in Northern France but that’s just part of the mystery in another album that asks more questions than it supplies answers.
What do we make of it all as this trilogy reaches its conclusion? How can one categorise SkarWorX?
Throughout the history of music there have been composers on an ego trip and those that wrote to entertain the masses. Think of Liszt for example, who built himself a fan club that Justin Bieber would cherish when there were no other examples at all of that phenomenon.
I’m not saying that SkarWorX wants you to be a belieber but after three albums I’m convinced he has set his stall out to provide enjoyable, thoughtful music which at the same time does not compromise in any way the high compositional standards he sets himself.
And you can’t ask for any more than that.
Mixing was by Jonas Kroon and mastering by Dorran Alibaud and the album is released on the Swedish label Lamour.
NMC rating: 8/10
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